NO NEWS IS GOOD NEWS
Notre Dame’s third game and the practice week that ensued offered a first for the 2016 season – no injury casualties.
“No, there was nothing. Nobody held out of practice, nobody missed a practice,” said Kelly. “Tuesday we were a little easy on some of the guys but normal stuff. Everybody full go.”
Not yet full go, and not likely to be this season, is junior cornerback Nick Watkins.
“We’re at a point right now where we have to make a decision whether we want to get him (involved),” said Kelly of his potential starter on the perimeter. “He’s got some (bone) growth. We’re not 100 percent there. Let’s put it this way, it looks like the decision to use the technique that we did is a positive thing. But we’re starting to fight time.”
Watkins broke his humerus (upper arm) in a spring practice. He was competing at the time with Shaun Crawford – since lost for the season with a torn Achilles tendon – and senior Cole Luke for a starting role.
If he sits out 2016, Watkins will have two seasons of eligibility remaining.
“We played him as a freshman and probably, my fault, that we didn’t utilize him properly as a freshman,” Kelly offered. “I don’t want to do that to the kid again. My point is: if it’s going to take another week or two, do I play him for a half of a season?
“He hasn’t been given full clearance by Dr. Ratigan,” Kelly continued. “I think they want to see after another week if it’s at that point where they can give him the green light and then we’ll sit down and have that conversation.
“I would say standing here in front of you right now, based upon my conversation with Dr. Ratigan, he thinks it’s still two more weeks, and if that’s the case, I would lean toward not playing him this year.”
All Clear? Though Notre Dame’s defensive backfield has doubtless missed the contributions of dismissed starting safety Max Redfield, the senior’s quartet of cohorts likewise arrested in a traffic stop that included drug-related charges on August 19 do not appear in line for University discipline.
“All those guys have had their cases adjudicated and they’re all going to be playing this weekend,” said Kelly, who, by edict of student-privacy codes cannot discuss specifics of such cases if privy to them.
Sophomores Ashton White and Dexter Williams are key members of the Irish specialty units while their classmate Te’von Coney starts at linebacker. The only freshman among the group, backup wide receiver Kevin Stepherson, has been targeted 11 times as a wide receiver and has scored a touchdown.
Though Notre Dame is down to its fourth starting cornerback (Nick Coleman) and backup free safety (Devin Studstill) due to injuries and suspensions detailed above, the Irish front seven remains relatively intact.
So too does the competition at Will linebacker.
“Te’von (Coney) will (start) but Greer Martini will see some considerable action because there’s going to be a lot of Nickel situations,” said Kelly. “The game will be played a little bit different than the Michigan State game. It was much more of a power running game from Michigan State. Duke is going to try to run it, obviously, but they’ve been throwing it quite effectively.”
Martini made a trio of third-down stops as the squad’s Nickel linebacker Saturday against the Spartans. He started against Texas in the season opener but shined in his most recent role.
Coney has collected 17 tackles including 14 in his two starts.
THE MODERN EQUIVALENT
Notre Dame’s missed tackles (25 per the count of Irish Illustrated) in losses to Texas and Michigan State were a topic of conversation this week. Kelly used his ensuing week of practice to bring that deficiency to light – albeit with minimal risks to the participants.
“It wasn’t necessarily more hitting as much as we ‘thudded up,’ said Kelly. “We didn’t take anybody to the ground. But what I wanted to do was put our defensive players, in particular in the back end (secondary) and at linebacker, in a position where they could go from speed to power on every play, and not just have a run-by, tag-off. So we created more of those opportunities during practice.”
In the wake of a 50-44 overtime loss at Texas, Kelly offered of his defense’s collective tackling efforts, “You're going through camp and there's not a lot of live tackling. You're trying to tackle as much as you can on objects that are not 250 pounds running at you. So we'll spend more time on tackling, but we expect that the tackling will get better and better as our guys settle into it defensively.”
Kelly added that the week’s “intent” was “to put our players in what we would consider a better transition phase for being good tacklers.”
MERCY IS FOR THE WEAK
Twitter can be a horrible place if you’re the coach of a 1-2 football team. Or the player on a 1-2 football team. (Or if you have a soul.)
Brian Kelly has a Twitter account, one he manages in conjunction with staff interns. Has he checked it recently?
“Absolutely not (smiling). Are you kidding? No way.”
As a result, Kelly hasn’t seen the rash of criticism directed to him, his staff, or the program in recent weeks. But he’s aware of it.
“I’m sure it’s out there. It comes with the territory,” he noted. “I know what the expectations are for the football program at Notre Dame. If it’s not out there I’d be surprised. When you build expectations you’re going to be criticized. I have no problem with that. I get that. As I said, I’m a 1-2 football coach. If you’re not criticizing a 1-2 football coach, your fan base is pretty soft.”